Growing up as a Korean American, I felt conflicted about my dad’s relationship with me.
I would watch my favorite show on TV—the Brady Bunch—and envy the seemingly loving and caring father I saw on the show and struggle with why my father was so opposite. It seemed the only times my father would speak to me was only to check up on how I was doing at school or when I did something wrong. I would then get an earful so I grew resentful and angry toward him over time. I suspect that many Asian Americans share a similar experience.
Perhaps because of this relationship I had with my father, my view of God was affected as well.
The full effect of my relationship with my earthly father was seen in my biggest ministry hardship. I took over a struggling church that was longing for vision and leadership. I went in full of prayer, passion, and energy to turn things around, and for a while, it did! People were getting saved. Long-time people who’d grown up in the church were discovering or rediscovering the gospel and getting renewed. I envisioned pastoring this church for the rest of my life. I couldn’t see anything that would get in the way.
Then all that came crashing down.
Whatever growth or momentum we had experienced as a church suddenly came to a screeching halt. It felt as if the spiritual oxygen had just gotten sucked out. There would be a lot more painful fallout to come. More relationships would be broken. Friendships would be betrayed. I fell into depression. I didn’t know the way forward anymore. And all my confidence was gone.
Why was I serving God? Why would God let all this happen? I had poured myself completely into the church and held nothing back. This is not the way it was supposed to happen.
But when I was at my lowest and darkest valley, God met me.
I read the writings of C. John Miller, a pastor and professor at Westminster Seminary. He had burned out, fallen into depression, and resigned his pastorate and professorship. He was so discouraged by what he’d seen in the church that he gave up, but God would meet him in a fresh way with His grace. This led him into a deep repentance of his underlying pride and self-righteousness. This struck a deep chord in me, and I knew the Lord was grabbing a hold of me as well.
What had happened to make my life joy disappear?
I had misplaced it in the ministry and in people. Even though I was preaching the gospel, I had been living like an orphan, striving hard to perform and earn a sense of favor through ministry. God had used this painful situation to expose my disconnected heart before Him. I had to repent so that I could get to a point where I could say with the Psalmist—“Your loving kindess is better than life” (Ps 63:3-4). I needed to discover what it meant to be a son to my heavenly Father.
Liberation from Striving for Success
Though it’s easy to write about this now, it would take years of being mentored in a formal Sonship discipleship program for this to settle in.
My heart does not naturally believe that God would be so delighted in me as His child. What I had interpreted as God’s anger and judgment toward me those dark days was actually God’s gracious training in my life. They were not the sign of God’s displeasure and absence from me, but of His deepest and most loving work in my life.
I learned that God’s love for me was more than enough regardless of what I do or accomplish in ministry. I have all the favor of my Father in heaven so why strive for success to prove myself?
I was gradually learning to rest in my identity as a beloved child of God.
The fruit of this ongoing discovery of my status as a beloved child of God would have enormous liberating effects in my life. The Lord would use this to help me see that I was not simply a victim of others’ wrongs—I had also sinned against others. I could now admit it and humbly ask for forgiveness.
Most wonderfully, he would heal my relationship with my own father. Instead of harboring resentment toward my own dad for his failures, I could now confess my own failure as a son. This simple repentance began to break down the deep barrier that existed for so long between us. My sonship freedom before God would lead to healing in the relationship with my own earthly father.
Liberation from Seeking My Own Kingdom
Furthermore, rather than living for my own kingdom—driving hard to perform to meet people’s expectations and trying to build up my own ministry—the Lord graciously broke me to find freedom from these things and to genuinely serve and labor for Him and His Kingdom alone.
Since God was my Father in heaven, the pressure was off. He created and invited me to come under His story of redemption, even if it looked very different from what I had imagined it to be. This was true freedom.
God led me to East Asia where I was able to take these same liberating truths to minister to people.
He used me to preach and train those who were steeped in a performance-oriented culture and only knew disconnected, authoritarian fathers. People had no trouble understanding they were undeserving before a holy and just God—this was their default mode. But now, they could understand the heart of God as a good and loving Father, and although it was not easy to grasp, this truth had profound liberating effects.
I would never have imagined the incredible opportunities God would open up for me and how He would use my own painful journey to sonship freedom to then help all kinds of people to find the same joyful truth.
I am a Child of God
Our understanding of our sonship position before God is so central to our faith that J.I. Packer, in Knowing God, puts it like this:
“If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.”
For a long time, even as a pastor, I did not really understand this truth well at all. Even now I still find myself living like an orphan at times.
But if God could meet me at my lowest with His great love then I can rest knowing I have a Father in heaven who is with me and completely for me whatever may come in the future.
This blog post was originally published on SOLA Network.